How depression has affected me
Bullying and bereavement
I first noticed my low mood at the age of 16, shortly after my grandmother’s death. This was also the period when the bullying I had experienced at school aged 11-15 started to sink in and I began to realise how much an effect this had had on my self-esteem. Around this time, I also began self-harming.
I don’t know why I started self-harming or where I even got the idea from, but one day I found myself rooting through my drawers looking for something sharp. I cut my legs and the relief was incredible. After all; if the bullies could hurt me, why couldn’t I hurt myself? I wasn’t self-harming regularly, maybe 2 or 3 times per week.
I kept a diary in which I wrote about how much I hated myself, how much I wanted to be helped but didn’t know who to ask and about the terrible things that had happened at school.
Mum found out
One afternoon I must have forgotten to hide my diary and my mum found it and read it. She confronted me that night, saying she knew I self harmed. I denied it. She sought help from a mentor at school, who took me into her office and explained what my mum had told her. She asked who was bullying me, but I told her no one because at this point it was true.
Mental health referral
Because of how rapidly my mood had declined I was referred straight to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). After my initial appointment, I refused to go back. Even though my self-harm had increased in both intensity and frequency, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was desperate to be helped, but didn’t want anyone to know my secret.
Up and down
Around the time of my GCSEs, my mood fell low again and on many days I would come home from school and go straight to bed, lying in the darkened room until it was time to sleep. I passed my exams, achieving 11 A*-B grades and once the stress was over, my mood improved considerably. I was still self harming, but superficially and not often.
Self harm increase
I started a 6th form college about one hour away from home. I was getting up at 6am and not returning until 6pm. A combination of the stress, long days and friend troubles put me back on a slippery slope and I was soon in the habit of self-harming several times per day.
I sat my modular AS exams in January, in which I achieved AAB. By the end of the year, my exam grades had dropped to AUU.
From the age of 16-17, I regularly overdosed on my hayfever medication, taking maybe two or three boxes at a time. This had no effect apart from drowsiness, and I found myself sleeping for days.
More severe overdosing
I started counselling when I was 17. After each session I would take a box of 16 paracetamol. I saw a counsellor regularly for about 8 months. I don’t know what made me do it and I don’t remember the first time it happened, but after each session I would buy paracetamol and take the whole box. They made me very tired and I saw it as another form of self harm. Luckily, I had no lasting damage.
Taken to doctor
Once I took two boxes over the space of three days. I woke up in the early hours of the morning with horrendous back and stomach pains. Because my mood was so low, my mum suspected I had taken something. She looked in my bag and found the empty packets of pills. She visited my GP the next day, who called me in to do a liver function test. Miraculously, the results came back fine.
I still hadn’t been diagnosed with depression and was not referred for follow-up treatment. My mood continued to fall. I began fail to see how I could cope without self harm.
Then my mother was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer and died within the space of three months. Shortly after her death my GP prescribed me anti-depressants. It was the wrong time to take them as the grief was still so new, and all the medication did was turn my feelings off.
When I left the 6th form college, I soon started a new college, studying a BTEC in Working in the Health Sector. I was still very low but the rate at which I was self-harming had fallen. My tutor at my new course noticed there was something wrong pretty much straight away. She asked me what was going on, but I told her I was fine.
Spiralling further down
As the first Christmas without my mum approached, my mood reached new lows. I was taking sharp things into college so I could self-harm there. I started cutting my forearms. No one suspected anything as the weather was dull so my long sleeves weren’t questioned. I wanted someone to help; I wanted to tell someone what was going on, but I felt like no one would understand.
In the January I took an overdose with the intention of suicide. It was an impulsive act and I hadn’t planned any of it. I took a few tablets and continued to take a lot more. I started to feel very sick, so called a taxi and went to the hospital.
Still no follow up care
My family didn’t know and still, to this day, don’t know what I did that night. I was kept in hospital for around six hours so that they could observe the poison levels in my blood. When the results came back fine, I was sent home. Again, there was no follow up.
Tried to tell someone
The day after, I didn’t go to college. My tutor was concerned and called me to find out what was happening. I told her I needed to see her and she made an appointment for us to meet that evening. Before I went, I wrote everything down for her so I didn’t have to say it. She read it and tried to comfort me, but I was embarrassed that someone knew my secret. She referred me to the college counselling service who I saw just once.
Things in a blur
I struggle to remember what was happening over this period, but I do know it was difficult. My GP was changing my medication regularly or just upping the dosage, but nothing was successfully lifting the black cloud.
I left college the following April. Between January and September that year, I drank heavily. I couldn’t stop when I was drunk; I had to drink until I passed out. I would wake up covered in vomit, in different places throughout the house and no idea how I got there. This would happen around 5 times a week. My family had no idea, as I would sit in my room and drink and hide the bottles under my bed or sneak them out and put them someone in else’s bin.
Denying the problem
I was seeing a case worker, who was delivering low level CBT. He was very concerned about my alcohol intake and tried to convince me to visit the alcohol services in town. However, I didn’t see my drinking as a problem, as I was still continuing to go to college and was still resuming everyday life. I told him I could stop whenever I wanted to because I wasn’t addicted to alcohol.
One morning I woke up and could no longer bear to be alive. I trashed the house, self-harmed the length of my arms and legs and spent a couple of hours crying hysterically. I called my cousin, who phoned the doctor’s and demanded I saw someone. They didn’t have space to give me an appointment, but said they would send the doctor out. The doctor never came but I did speak to him on the phone. I also phoned my dad, which I don’t remember doing, and told him to come home from work because I needed him.
The doctor sent an urgent referral to the crisis team, who came out that day to assess my mental state. They suggested I go to a ‘crisis flat’ (or respite flat) for one week to give myself some space. I agreed with this and spent a week in the flat. Whilst I was there I slept and drank a lot. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drunk whilst I was there.
Continuing to hide the problem
The crisis team would usually visit me in the morning, and when they left I would get out the alcohol and start drinking until I passed out. When I woke up, I would take myself to bed, fall to sleep and repeat the process the next day. They didn’t know what I was doing and neither did my family as I had gotten quite good at hiding it.
Wanting to die
When I left the flat, my dad had gone on holiday with his new partner and my sister was staying at her friends. I’m not sure what triggered the even more sudden drop in my mood, but I spent two or three days crying constantly. My cousin tells me I would phone her up crying and ask her to come round. When she got there, I would be laid on the floor crying, my head in my hands. I don’t remember this. However, I do remember being stood on the doorstep of my house smoking with my cousin, crying and telling her how much I wanted to die.
Wanting uni to be a new start
When I started university that September, I expected things to just get better. They didn’t. They stayed the same. In October I landed myself in hospital from self-harming too badly. The staff there were lovely, and after a few hours I was sent home – again, with no follow up. I was still drinking heavily and my flat mates, although I was close to them, wouldn’t have much to do with me when I was drunk.
Missing lectures and avoiding socialising
I was missing lectures because I was always too tired to go or to anxious to be around anyone. My social life plummeted as I was just too depressed to do anything. I was behind on work and struggled to catch up. I wanted help, but I didn’t want to admit there was a problem.
Struggling on placement
Although I managed to stop drinking, I was still very depressed when I started my first placement, but this was suspended at the mentor’s request three weeks into the placement. She had kept asking what was wrong but I denied everything. One afternoon I started crying with frustration whilst at placement, and the next day it was suspended.
I left university for Christmas early, spending longer at home than the rest of the students. It was a bad time at home. My dad’s new partner had practically moved in and I found it difficult to get on with her. I would spend most of my time in bed or on the computer. I felt like my body was existing but there were no feelings there.
Got to the point of wanting to act
When I came back to university after Christmas, I had an episode where I was in hospital requiring stitches for self-harm that had gotten out of control three times in one week. Because of the frequency, the hospital were concerned and contacted my psychiatrist. When I next saw her, she referred me to psychology. Because my mood was so low at this time, I decided it was time to do something about it.
I had such a happy childhood. I was brought up in Cyprus with my brother and sister (I’m the middle child) and parents as my dad was in the army. We moved over to the UK when I was nine. Moving to England wasn’t a culture shock as I had spent my time in Cyprus living on a British Forces estate, so I was pretty used to the English culture and very happy to be closer to my extended family.
From the age of about 4 until I was 11, I was painfully shy. I wouldn’t talk to anyone but my mum or my maternal grandparents and if I had something to say to anyone else, it would be shouted aggressively.
When I started secondary school, that’s when the bullying started. The campaign was initiated by a friend, who would hit me with rulers or tip my chair back. In year eight, she burnt me with a soldering iron in a technology lesson. This was the first time I mentioned the incidents to my mum. She was fuming and contacted school. Both my friend and I denied the occurrence.
She got her friends involved and the bullying got worse. There were times when I would be punched or pushed in the corridor for no reason. On a few occasions I was quite seriously physically assaulted at school.
Thinking I deserved it
I used to let the bullies do as they pleased, thinking I deserved it and not recognising that the behaviour wasn’t normal. It seemed like the whole school of over 800 students hated me. I had a close circle of two friends and other students who I said ‘hi’ to occasionally.
Bereavement triggering depression
My grandma died when I was 15 after a long battle with lung cancer. It was a relief that she was no longer in pain, but I was devastated. Around this time the bullying stopped and I began to realise the true reality of what had been happening to me and that it wasn’t in fact normal.
Realising what had been happening
The nightmare I had been living became a reality. I missed my grandma a lot and a black cloud was slowly descending. This is when the self harming began.
The following year, when my mum became ill, she was in constant pain and in and out of hospital, then she died suddenly from complications to her illness. It wasn’t expected and we found out she was going to die eight hours before it happened.
The family retreated into itself. We argued constantly. No one had anything nice to say to anyone else. I would constantly ask myself why it had happened to us. We were so happy before. My auntie, on the other hand, only had her dog to care for; no family, no job, no nothing.
Finding someone to trust
Soon after my suicidal overdose, I started meeting up with my cousin regularly. She had moved out of her parents’ place and desperate for a friend, I saw her often and we developed an extremely close bond, which we still have today. Because I trust her so much, I find her easy to talk to, and it has really helped having someone to talk to.
Seeking medical help at uni
When I started uni I was seeing my new GP regularly. He has been extremely supportive and he referred me to a psychiatrist because he recognised that I couldn’t be treated with anti-depressants alone. they have made me feel a lot less suffocated by my problems and a lot more able to cope.
Deciding to do something about it
After the episode in hospital in my first term, I decided I needed to stop drinking. I self-referred to the university counselling service, who I am still seeing now. Since the episode in hospital after Christmas, when I decided to do something about it, things have gotten much better. I hardly ever drink anymore, I rarely self-harm and when I do it’s superficial.
Personal and welfare tutors
After the Christmas break, I made an appointment with my personal tutor, who referred me to the welfare tutor. We talked for a while and she suggested I spoke to the mental health advisors, who could put in place certain things to make studying easier for me. She has been great with informing my lecturers of problems I’ve been experiencing at university and ensures she is doing everything she can to make university life easier for me.
Mental Health Advisor
The mental health advisor has really helped. His job role is to put things in place to make studying easier for me. He helped me fill in the application form for Disabled Student’s Allowance to help me get better resources for my learning. Together we developed a Student Support Plan, which means I get extra time in exams, a separate room and lecture notes before lectures.
The Disabled Student’s Allowance provides funding for a mentor who I see for two hours a week. I don’t see her just for mental health reasons, but just as an ‘extra friend’. She doesn’t mind what we talk about when we meet: it can be anything from my car to my family to my self-harm. I find her very useful.
Disabled Student’s Allowance
The Disabled Student’s Allowance was a great thing to discover! Besides the mentor, it also funded a PDA as I had so much trouble remembering when I had appointments with my GP or psychiatrist. When I was also having problems with my computer, they funded a new laptop computer.
The counselling I have at university and had when I was at college helped a lot. It helped me put my feelings into words, which I had always struggled to do. It has been extremely productive in helping me move forward with the bullying I experienced at school. The counselling I am having at present is more to deal with my mum’s death, and I found it has got a lot easier to think about whilst I have been accessing this service.
My friends have been wonderful and I am so lucky to have them. I don’t know what I would have done without them. I met some really good friends when I came to university and we’re still as close as ever. They always know when there is something wrong and will do anything they can to make me smile.
Writing was one of my main forms of therapy when I was at my worst. Writing is extremely cathartic for me and has helped me express what I couldn’t say in words.
What I’ve learnt
Ask for help
I have learnt that asking for help isn’t weak. I was so reluctant to do it before with the fear that they would think I was attention seeking or they wouldn’t take me seriously. The first time I voluntarily asked for help, I realised that this wasn’t in fact the case. If I was to become as low as I’ve been in the past again, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for help.
I am not alone
I always thought that I was alone in depression, that no other student would have it. Since being at university, I’ve met a few people who have depression or have had it in the past and have realised that I’m not as alone as I thought I would be.
Build a support network
Asking for help builds a great support network. If I hadn’t have spoke to my personal tutor about how I felt, I wouldn’t have known about the welfare tutor, I wouldn’t have known about the mental health advisors and I wouldn’t have known about DSA.